Establishing a financially sustainable school farm
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2018 - 12:00am

(Part III of the series on Prof. ML Charuphant Thongtham)

In the past two weeks my column readers reacted instantly. Laurence Joshua Morales referring to July 26 column “A Thai Prince’s Descendant Who Elevated Philippine Farming” stated that as an OFW in Thailand for five years, he was able to visit almost every Thai municipality and city. “What fascinates me is the way they encourage their farmers to be productive. I guess one of the many reasons for this is the support from their kingdom to promote farming in far flung areas and make money out of it.” Laurence’s family owns a five-hectare land located in a remote area in Southern Leyte. He is interested to know if there are ongoing agri-programs of the government that assists potential farmers like him, which he is not aware of since they are far from the capital.

The next column “School Farm Models for UN Sustainability Agenda 2030” came out in the Opinion page on Aug. 4, attracting more readers than my usual Thursday Education page. Reader Agustin Lara commented, “Your article, has greatly impressed me. Surely others also feel the same way, with the spiraling food prices. May I earnestly suggest you to kindly petition and urge the Secretary of Agriculture and Congress for the adoption of the system or technology discussed in your article: “In 1997, during the first major economic crisis which set back Thailand, the King was able to persuade the Thais to go back to the countryside with his “New Theory of Self-Sufficiency” farming. The Lopburi Crop Experiment Station leased a 6,000 sq.m. to one hectare model farm to each farmer. After only a year, the rice harvest multiplied to several tons from 180 kilos. It includes vegetables and sampaguita gardens, a bamboo grove with dendroclamus asper (giant bamboo), fruit trees and a fishpond which is also used during drought. Thus, during the crisis, the food in Thailand retained their original price.” Our country and people direly need this stunning miracle and will immensely appreciate your help.”

Thai King’s self-sufficiency farm tech still operational at OB Montessori Las Piñas campus

Between 1998 to 2003, Prof. Charuphant helped set up two farms: a half-hectare OBMC school farm in BF Las Piñas campus and an 11-hectare farm in Sulsuguin Alfonso, Cavite bordering Tagaytay. “School-based Urban Gardens: The Operation Brotherhood Montessori Experience,” was the theme of my speech in the National Conference on Urban Agricultural Systems in the Philippines held at the Bureau of Agricultural Research in the Agricultural Training Institute Building. Below is Prof. Charuphant’s farm design.  

The Seed Germination shed (16.5 sq.m.) is where the newly sown seeds and transplanted seedlings are grown. Six cubicles can accommodate 500 seedling trays of vegetable, flowering and herbal plants. Six lateral overhead mini-sprinklers patterned after Thailand’s design, are used to water young plants early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

The Nursery shed (90 sq.m.) is where the transplanted seedlings from the Seed Germination shed are further grown. This shed can accommodate between 1,500 and 2,000 young plants up to 1 meter high. Three lateral overhead mini-sprinklers are installed to water the plants and a thermometer is used to monitor the daily temperature. This is an additional budget of P50,000. Due to wear and tear for the last 3 years, the nursery’s roof will have to undergo repair using imported plastic which is thicker and stronger than the local brands.

Two major requirements of an effective farm are compost making and a water reservoir.

The Compost Production Unit (90 sq.m.) is where the different compost media are placed, It consists of 8 cubicles, each cubicle holding a different compost medium: river sand, garden soil, burnt rice hull, sawdust, coco peat, coconut husk, animal manure, dried leaves, rice hull and lime. Each class is required to make one compost and measuring 1 meter by 5 meters every school quarter. To enhance faster decomposition, locally available compost digester – EM (effective microorganism) 1 liter/10 gallons mixed with garden soil takes 1 to 3 months to decompose garden debris. Students sell this at P20 per 3-kilo bag. 

The Coconut Electric Chopper purchased from Thailand is used for cutting dried leaves and coconut husks into small pieces for planting and compost making. Animal manure, leaves, branches and fresh coconut husks are dried in the Sun Drying Area (12m by 8m) 2 new water tanks and one pressure tank (500 gallons each) are also found in this area. The Mixing Area prepares seeds for sowing and transplanting of media, potting and repotting of weak and unhealthy plants.

The Vegetable Gardening Experimental Field is divided into 3 parts. The boundary lines are planted with windbreaker plants from Thailand such as 3 Bangkok tamarind trees, 7 miracle eucalyptus trees, 15 mahogany tress and 13 sesbania trees (katuray). Area I (500 sq.m.) is maintained by Grade IV and V students and is planted with Chinese cabbage, Thailand sweet basil, oregano, lemon grass, alpinia galanga, Thai bokchoy and bitter gourd (Ilocos variety). Area II (1,200 sq.m.) is maintained by the high school students and is planted with sweet corn, and squash. Area III (700 sq.m.) is planted with tomato, Chinese kale, spring onion and different fruit trees from Thailand such as star fruit, and calamansi.

The wonderful harvest excites students and parents

Prof. Charuphant saw to it that a detailed quarterly plan of specific vegetables would be followed. The 3 months of the first quarter (June to August) was spent for the procurement of different garden media, land preparation and seed sowing. Four beds of compost were prepared on a monthly basis. By August, the seedling of bokchoy, Bangkok kangkong, 30 sesbania trees, sweet basil, Chinese kale, and sweet corn were ready for transplanting.

In the second quarter (September to November), about 140 kilos of vegetables were harvested totaling P5,400 – 2 rows of sweet corn (75 kilos); 5 plots of Thai bokchoy (15 kilos); Sesbania trees (15 kilos); 4 plots of kangkong (30 kilos). In the third quarter (December to January), we earned P6,200 approximately. By the fourth quarter (February to April), Prof. Charuphant revised our scheduled calendar due to unforeseen weather problems.

From June 1, 2017 to April 18, 2018, sales from the vegetable production including dressed chicken (43.7 kilos), regular chicken (10.5 kilos), quail eggs (540 pieces), and catfish (22 kilos) earned P21,459.88.

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